Guest Commentary: “Remembering the cookout, the noose, and their aftermath”


Four years ago, the fragile tranquility of the La Jolla campus was shattered by a series of events now known at the “Compton Cookout.” Cutting-edge scholarship on campus climate emphasizes the need for universities to continually revisit their “historical legacy” as a benchmark for progress. Therefore, as much as administrators would like to erase the “Cookout” and its aftermath, it is crucial that we remember the events of February 2010.

We view calls to “move beyond” the past and erase any memory of the events that transpired as nothing more than an attempt to release newly installed administrators from their responsibilities. It is time to hold accountable everyone involved in the “strategic planning” that will determine the future of UCSD and impact the lived experiences of future generations of students. Do any of the various strategic planning groups have any knowledge of what the university agreed to do in the agreement signed by the previous chancellor in 2010? Where in the “strategic plan” is there a place for the advancement of women and historically underrepresented students, staff and faculty? How do these groups fit into the research and fundraising agendas of the future?

We do not write this letter from a position of authority — our view is partial; we know other groups will come at these issues differently. Our analysis is informed by the contrast between the intensity of those two weeks in February 2010 and the lack of substantial progress since then. Our objective is to reinvigorate the tension that is a necessary precondition for productive change. One of the outcomes of the so-called “Cookout/noose” episode is that administrators with an investment in the status quo have co-opted terms like “equity,” “inclusion” and even “social justice.” “Diversity” itself has become nothing more than an empty slogan used for award ceremonies and public relations. “Inclusion” now has no equity component because it lacks historical grounding. By stripping those terms of their original meanings, they become corporate buzzwords that can be packaged and easily exchanged without structural change ever taking place. They become a decorative piece of UCSD’s new “brand” in order to fool the public.

Four years later, the organizational disarray of UCSD’s “diversity” infrastructure has yet to be rectified. Countless committees, councils and task forces still exist with each operating in a vacuum. The Climate Council mandated by former UC President Yudof continues to meet with “community members,” but because there are no coherent action plans or work groups nothing is accomplished. The sudden departure of Vice Chancellor Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Linda Greene creates another vacuum into which a professor without expertise in diversity in higher education (a real academic discipline with a vast scholarly literature) is forced to “do the best she can.” No advisory group made up of staff, students and faculty with experience in relevant issues has been formed to assist the VC-EDI. The VC-EDI office still has no dedicated development officer (In fact, since 2010 two highly skilled development officers were hired but soon disappeared — one fired; the other departed out of frustration).

We applaud Chancellor Khosla’s attempts to increase access for local students from historically excluded communities. But as the student activists asked four years ago, what kind of campus environment is awaiting these new students? First and foremost, is there an effective support structure to ensure their academic success? Has the climate substantially improved since 2010, especially for Black and Brown students, so that new students will not have to experience the same alienation that has plagued the campus for over 50 years? As Dr. King once remarked: “Integration, yes, but not integration into a burning house.”

Because the UCSD administration continues to lack an objective analysis of the racial/gender landscape, their “solutions” too often stop at the emotional level. Hostile climate for them is the result of individual student unhappiness or over-sensitivity. In fact, “diversity officers” are happy to focus on “micro-aggressions” precisely because it allows them to ignore the causes of the macro-hostility against Black and Brown students that permeate the campus environment.

We call upon Chancellor Khosla and Executive Vice Chancellor Subramani to mandate the formation of an advisory group for the VC-EDI. Members of the group should not be appointed randomly by title but by their level of experience working on equity and “diversity” issues at UCSD over the last several years. This group will help to formulate a draft “diversity” strategic plan that will be available to the permanent VC-EDI when she/he is hired.

It has been four years since the agreement signed by Chancellor Fox with the Black Student Union, seven years since the submission of a detailed report on yield with specific recommendations and 10 years since the first Chief Diversity Officer was named. A full decade has been lost at UCSD with regard to the most pressing problems for historically excluded communities. Is it any wonder that only those who are drunk on institutional Kool-Aid can take seriously UCSD’s claim that “things will be different this time?”

Jorge Mariscal Professor of Literature | Fnann Keflezighi ’11 | Patrick Velásquez Chicano/Latino Concilio